FORT WAYNE, Ind. – It may have taken Tony Stewart five years to return to the Rumble in Fort Wayne, but by all accounts, it was as if he’d never left after watching his performance throughout the weekend.
Stewart made his first appearance at the winter indoor classic since 2012 over the weekend, after a myriad of injuries and other circumstances kept him out of the car for four-straight Decembers.
And while some speculated it might take a night for the three-time Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series champion to shake off the rust, Stewart proved that absence only made the heart grow fonder and that his No. 2 ‘Our Gang Poker’ Munchkin was as strong as ever.
The Columbus, Ind. Native set fast time in Friday’s qualifying session, transferred into the first feature of the weekend through his heat race and was passing Jim Anderson for second in the 50-lap main when he and Anderson made contact, spinning Stewart around and sending him to the work area for repairs.
Stewart later returned for a portion of the main, but finally retired with five to go and finished 13th.
Saturday was a bit more of an adventure. Stewart floundered in qualifying and only posted the 19th-best time, but still transferred through his heat race and charged from 12th to sixth in the finale feature.
Though neither night left the impression that Stewart had hoped to in his return to the Expo Center, the Indiana native explained that being home was the best offseason medicine he could have hoped for.
“Man, I’ve missed running this car,” Stewart said following Saturday night’s main event. “Being back here as a driver is something I’ve been looking forward to for a long time. The guy that crew-chiefed my car – Brad Mariscotti – is one of our TSR guys that works on Donny Schatz’s car regularly and I hate asking him to take time out of his busy schedule to work on it, but he took the time out of his schedule to get it ready and I really appreciate that.”
“There’s things that we wanted to get done to this car before we came that we ran out of time to do, but we’ll get it all done for next year. It’s a lot of fun. The track was tricky this weekend; all the go-karts peel the rubber up and it never works real well for the midgets … but it’s a blast to race here and something that I’m really glad to have been able to get back to this weekend. There’s not much that compares to racing here.”
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